Green Shirt Studio

Want to Improve Faster? Have Better Self Talk

When you talk to yourself, what voice do you use?

This is something that comes up in lessons frequently. One of the central ideas of the Alexander Technique is that of Direction — how the way we think about our body activates habits that shape the way we move. Making this thinking more conscious can substitute positive movement for movement that works against us.

Alexander Technique teachers specifically craft the phrasing of these directions — from the traditional (‘allow the neck to be free’) to negative direction (allow the neck to unclench) to Freedom Directions (my neck is free to be relaxed). The words we use do affect us, but there is more to it than that.

Lately I’ve been more focused on the tone students take with themselves with their inner-voice. I often go through a phase with a student where they are forceful with themselves — like they are trying to order their neck into freedom. This invariably results in more tension. Slowly, a student learns how to make their thinking lighter and gentler, and as such they stop trying to manipulate their body as if it is a tool that is separate from themselves but to speak to themselves kindly as if affirming a state of being, rather than judging or trying to change. This is a profound shift that subtly unwinds habits and gives us the space to grow.

The applications of this to life are boundless. Though I am not an advocate of being sunny with yourself all the time (you have to be honest, and the pressure to be constantly positive can block the release of feelings that are important to let go of), it seems clear that when you speak against yourself inside your head it only stimulates you to do more of what you have been already doing. 

Forceful self-criticism tends to make us less likely to take risks, which makes change impossible. This has been particularly apparent in my work with artists — many of us get so focused on our craft we stifle our inner artist under a mountain of self-monitoring and “shoulds.” I find that when giving universal positive regard while simultaneously being honest with who I am coaching — giving accurate feedback, but nurturing a positive tone for the artist to take in their growth — the effect is that they stop associating self-knowledge with criticism and start to associate it with opportunity, and their inner-artist feels safe to come out and to do the work for them.

Think of how you approach a goal in your life: posture, weight loss, a promotion, an athletic goal. How do you talk to yourself about it? Are you whipping yourself towards it like you are your own enemy, separating yourself out, or are you speaking to yourself positively and nurturingly? As much as Americans tend to have an aggressive stance to self improvement, you might find that better self talk will allow you to change faster and for the better.

Interested in learning more about how your ways of movement affect your performance? Sign up for the Alexander Technique with Jeremy Cohn, starting either July 25 or July 30!